A few brief thoughts about the size of music paper

Opinion

Today, within the span of several hours, I received several inquiries from separate sources wondering if 9” x 12” paper was acceptable for orchestral use, or if 10” x 13” was necessary. (Of course, these are North American paper sizes.)

This question comes up quite a bit, but today it seemed like rapid-fire. The query seems to arise every so often on the various Facebook groups related to music engraving and score preparation.

So, in brief, here’s my experience.

9” x 12” is perfectly acceptable. Based on working with hundreds of orchestras and direct feedback from countless librarian and performer colleagues, it’s not the size of the page that they’re really concerned about. It’s the legibility of the music.

Music prepared and printed on 9” x 12” paper (click for large photo)

If the staff lines and notes are large enough to read, you’re good. If you have itty-bitty notes with no cues, it won’t matter if you have a page that is 5 feet tall, you’ll still have a revolt on your hands.

What’s a good staff size? I thought you’d never ask…

The sweet spot for much of the music I prepare is around 7.5 mm. For studio sessions and other instances where music is sight-read, the stands are shared, and/or lighting is sub-optimal, 7.7 mm is nice; for chamber music that is likely to have the benefit of a lot of rehearsal, 7.3 mm or even smaller can be just fine. Sometimes adjustments are necessary based on the style and genre of the music, so don’t take these measurements as gospel. And when the music is being read on the likes of iPads, all bets are off, given that the music is likely to be resized to fit the screen.

Don’t take my word for it; the authoritative MOLA Guidelines for Music Preparation, updated this year for the first time in a decade by some of the best in the business, advises the same.

Of course, the larger the paper, the more music you can fit. This can make laying out your music and finding page turns easier, but with a good copyist it’s rarely a problem.

The reason 9” x 12” has evolved as acceptable is that it’s still larger than 8.5” x 11” but can be printed by laser printers that can print 18” x 12” (for booklet printing) but don’t take up an entire room. These printers aren’t exactly tiny, but it is possible to transport an HP LaserJet 5200 to a session for on-site printing, if necessary.

Once you get to 19” x 13” or 20” x 13” you have to print on a huge commercial printer (unless you use an inkjet printer, which is totally unacceptable; heaven forbid your music encounter the slightest bit of moisture). 9.5” x 13” is often used even when 10” x 13” is insisted upon because 19” x 13” is a standard digital paper size.

Music prepared and printed on 9.5” x 13” paper (click for large photo)

For many years, 9.5” x 12.5” was a standard size because it was widely used in the sadly all-but extinct world of hand-copied music. Even after music became mostly copied on computers, 9.5” x 12.5” was still regularly used, but 9” x 12” is a perfectly fine alternative for the reasons stated above.

You can still find 9.5” x 12.5” manuscript paper at Judy Green Music and perhaps in some specialty stores. When I was a graduate student at Juilliard in the 1990s, they sold it at the bookstore, but I don’t know if that’s still the case.

My friend Charlie Waters wrote an excellent essay in 2002 about the world of hand-copied music and finding manuscript paper at the legendary Associated Music Copy Service (not to be confused with Associated Music Publishers).

I’m lucky enough to have in my possession a number of charts copied by the great Bert Kosow, who, in addition to being a premier copyist of his time, ran a successful music copying class in the 1980s where no detail was too small to overlook, including the precise make and model of the Pelikan Graphos pen that was recommended. All of that music was copied on 9.5” x 12.5” paper.

An instructional page from Bert Kosow’s music copying class, on 9.5” x 12.5” paper (click for large photo)

This barely scratches the surface of the history of music page sizes, so if you have stories you’d like to share or additional information you’d like to provide — or, more topically, current experience you have preparing music on different page sizes — please feel free to comment below!

Comments

  1. Kevin Weed

    Thank you. I am glad the MOLA guidelines have been updated.

  2. Peter Roos

    Great post, and very timely … I just purchased an HP 5200 DTN for music printing, film music in particular (parts and scores), and for the past two weeks have been shopping for music paper. Questions: 1. what about 8.5 x 11 inch (letter) for parts — is that too small? We used that at Skywalker for film scoring sessions and the musicians were fine with that; and 2. do you have any preference as to paper thickness, color, smoothness, and any particular brand? I went to the local Kelly Paper store in Oakland and found this paper I really like: Domtar Cougar grain long, smooth, natural, 80/32lb. (118 grams per square meter). It’s not bright white but a bit off-white, nice thick quality, and smooth to the touch. Very nice overall. They have the same paper in 11×17, but not in the same thickness, 70/28 lb (or 103 grams per m2). They’d have to special order the thicker quality and have it cut, which became an expensive exercise. If you try to order online, shipping orders can quickly add up, but I found a store (3 Star Papers) that had a pretty good deal, including shipping. The paper thickness standards are pretty confusing, by the way, for anyone shopping for paper I’d recommend to go to a store and look at it first. Sorry for the long rant, thanks for your blogs Philip, they are always super helpful. Cheers, Peter.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Peter. Letter size is OK in a pinch, if the music is legible. Your paper choices sound good to me. Some paper brands are more readily available in different areas. Due to the high cost of shipping, if you find a local supplier you like, stick with it.

  3. Tiago

    Nice post Philip,

    Is that the Norfolk Font in the first picture (12″x9″ example) ?
    Looking great.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Tiago, thanks. Actually – that one is using good old Opus, but with Helsinki Text for dynamics. Same with the Copland example.

  4. Bob Nowak

    Philip, good post to bring us all up to date. You also stirred some nice memories. I got my start with the old 9.5 x 12.5 hand copied parts. You’re right about Associated Music Copy Service which was run by Bob Haring and then after Bob’s passing continued its operation under the leadership of his wife Judy. The other big supplier in NY was King Brand which was my personal favorite. Both places had great manuscript papers, score paper, and various supplies and reference books for copyists. And in those days before digital printing both houses were invaluable for reproducing and binding scores and parts. Bert Kosow was one of the legendary copyists of his day. I worked side by side with Bert not long before he left us. His early partner, Tony Ragusa, who helped Bert start his office and then moved on, was my mentor. It actually took a number of years for me to be able to use my Pelikan pen efficiently without getting ink all over my hands! Ah, those were the days! Nevertheless I am quite happy with our digital notation programs, for among the many benefits are no more leaky pens and no more messy erasures. Continue your fine work.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Bob! Thanks for this terrific reminiscence.

    2. Jay Anthony Gach

      Along with Kosow and Ragusa do some of you remember Arnie Arnstein? He was a copyist for a lot of “Lenny” Bernstein’s and Sam Barber’s, Gian Carlo Menotti, etc. work; used to give guest music prep. seminars (I took a few lessons from him up at Bennington College summer seminar) and I believe he also gave a class at Julliard. Also, among these NYC artists (I really do believe “music prep. is an art) does anyone recall a music prep group in mid-town Manhattan (I thought they were in the same building as King Brand papers) called WEDO ? A bunch of us composers were trying to recall who the staff members there were. Enjoyable thread, thank you.

      1. Philip Rothman

        Jay, I never knew Arnstein but certainly know of his work.

        Here are some interesting links:
        NY Times obituary, Dec. 5, 1989
        NY Times article from 1978
        Arnold Arnstein collection of musical scores at the New York Public Library

        1. Jay Anthony Gach

          Philip, thank you, thank you. Very enjoyable reads.

      2. Bob Nowak

        Jay,
        Bringing up these names makes me feel like an old-timer, which I guess I am these days. I worked at WEDO’s for a tiny bit of time — some copying (by hand of course) and some proofreading. At that time WEDO’s was located in Carnegie Towers adjacent to Carnegie Hall and was run by Steve Dannenberg who recently retired as the head of Local 802’s Music Prep Department. I wracked by brain to come up with other names at that office but I could only remember working next to Stanley Applebaum who always had a keen eye and bit of musical insight handy. Maybe this will stir the proverbial pot for some other remembrances.

        1. Philip Rothman

          Bob: Some more remembrances here, with today’s post about Mathilde Pincus. Did you know her?

          1. jay anthony gach

            Ah I never saw that NY TImes article on Ms. Pincus but that photo of her is exactly how she looked. Yes I did meet Mathilde a couple of times in her office which I believe (geez i can’t be sure) was in the old Brill building on 49th and B’dway. Must of been around 1973. I was still at music conservatory but had my sights outside of classical music and was given a recommendation by a very fine NYC pops composer and Broadway conductor Eric Knight to go see Al Miller and Mathilde Pincus. I’m surprised her colleague Al Miller was not mentioned in the article. My impression was they sat in the same office as business partners and worked together.They were both very willing to chat and give advice to a novice like me. I remember they good-naturedly bemoaned the rise of Rock because the recording sessions seldom needed arrangers and/or copyists – the producer was king. And by that time the “work” was already moving to the West Coast and that was their career advice to me – relocate to Los Angeles. Oh also “learn how to better use my Osmeroid pen”! (You’ll remember the osmeroid on onion skin paper?)
            You know, the big take-away from meeting up with music copyists back then like Arnstein, and Koslow and Pinchus and Miller and Judy Goldstein over at Associated music was that the business as they knew it was becoming rather insular and in a contracting phase. What we can now do 30 years later would quite astound them but the requisite practical musicianship that the art requires would still be right up their alley.

          2. Philip Rothman

            Jay: Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for this. If you wouldn’t mind re-posting your comments on the blog post about Ms. Pincus, that would be great so that readers can see it there, too.

        2. Steve Cohen

          I worked at Wedo’s on and off throughout the 80s and 90s. Early on, the office was on Broadway and 50th Street, and then they moved to upstairs from Carnegie Hall. (Dr. Don Shirley lived on the same floor) If I remember correctly, arranger Mark Suozzo was Steve Danenberg’s partner. Eric Knight was another of the first-call copyists. Like Stan Applebaum, Eric was also an excellent arranger. We did a lot of work for Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops, conveniently located in the same building a few floors down.

  5. Steve Alper

    FWIW, we still print to 9-1/2 X 12-1/2 for Broadway today. Most librarians can tell you the exact enlargement to get from the 8-1/2 X 11 we use for proofing.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Steve!

  6. Seann Alderking

    Any thoughts about non-American size papers (A, B series)? B4 seems to be the closest profile to 10×13 but it’s very hard to come by, and even big venues like the Opera House Covent Garden cut their own. A4 (our more or less equivalent to 8.5×11) seems to end up being used a lot just because it’s the most available size…

    1. Philip Rothman

      Seann, I’ll let my European colleagues speak to this. Hopefully someone will chime in.

      1. Carlo van der Put

        Hello Philip,

        The Metopole Orchestra ( Netherlands) uses B4 for parts and A3 for scores . Staff size 8 ( except for piano, there I use staff size 7 )
        For my own printing of parts I use 9,5 x 12,5.
        120 grams, a little off white…

        Best ,

        Carlo van der Put

        1. Philip Rothman

          Thank you, Carlo!

          1. Yehonatan Beerbaum

            My experience, which is mainly based in the German musical theatre business is, that most of the librarians ask for A4 (parts) and A3 (Scores) because it’s the most common (and cheapest) format.

            I really liked my parts in the B4 format, but in my experience it’s not really often used anymore.

            BTW: I use 7mm staff size for parts. Was fine for years but after reading this article I’m thinking about it. Too small?

      2. mirabilos

        What do you use for vocal scores (without or with a two- or three-stave accompaniment)?

        I’m currently using A4 with 1.75 mm Spatium in MuseScore (= 7.7 mm stave height) and extremely reduced margins (8 mm top, 15 mm bottom (because most printers need more bottom margin), 12 mm inner (to account for stapling), 8 mm outer) because that allows my fellow singers to print out my editions themselves at home. (I also use a slightly larger lyrics font and try to keep the inter-note spacing large enough for legibility; some commercial scores are just too tight.) Sometimes I can go to 1.8 mm Spatium (7.9 mm stave), sometimes I have to get down to 1.675 mm Spartium (7.37 mm stave) to make things fit, but that’s small enough the elderly ladies in the Alto complain they can’t read any more, so I try to stick to the larger ones.

        We’ve been handed commercially prepared music with about 5 mm stave height, or spacing tight enough that the notes almost collide with the accidentals of the next notes… that does not a good legibility make (I get trying to cut down on costs, but that was illegible to the aforementioned ladies); most were A4 or even slightly smaller.

        I’ve been considering investing into an A3 printer and some kind of “long stapler” for better results, but that’s way too much currently, as I only print for me and some friends, it’s the Kantor’s job to provide prints to the masses (he often uses my editions, thankfully, but sometimes he hands out crap like tenor/bass combined with bass clef (ugh) so I have to make my own edition only afterwards).

  7. Julian Bennett Holmes

    Does anyone have a suggestion for a good laser printer that can print 12×18?
    Is the HP 5200 the best bet? And does anyone know if the automatic duplex on that printer can handle 12×18, or only 11×17?

    1. David Lovrien

      The HP 5200 is great up to 12×18 but in my experience the duplexer doesn’t work reliably above legal size. They are tanks and will print millions of pages if serviced regularly, and can usually be found used (reconditioned) for just a few hundred bucks.

      1. Julian Bennett Holmes

        You’re right — I now have the printer, and the duplexer doesn’t support 12×18, but manual duplex with this printer is easy. So far, it seems like an excellent printer overall.

  8. Frank Fitzpatrick

    Thank you for this article and all the others that you write. My question is about full orchestra scores for the conductor. In Finale I am entering a symphony I wrote. With 25 staffs to a page the print is microscopic on 8 1/2 by 11. What is standard practice?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Frank, I would recommend 11×14 or 11×17 for full-size scores.

  9. Jason

    Hey Philip so I guess 8.5 staff size in the Mola Guideline pdf for strings is not used these days and 8.0mm is perfectly fine for most all instruments? Also if 9×12 for parts is now the common page size what do you recommend in regards to page margins? I noticed Sibelius seems to give a lot more white space around the page but curious on your thoughts

    1. Tiago

      Hi Jason, I guess you meant 7.5 instead of 8.5 in the Mola Guideline. Since I read it I increased my template to 7.5 (from Sibelius 7.0 default) and and some musicians at the orchestra find it too big now (A4 standard paper format where I live). I’ll give 7.2 mm a try.

    2. Philip Rothman

      Jason, it’s true the MOLA guidelines say that “anything larger than 8.5 mm should be avoided” but even 8.0 is really rather large. I would say between 7.2 and 7.8 mm. For margins I’d recommend about 2/3 inch or 16 mm.

  10. Peter H. Adams

    This is an excellent post, and I very much appreciate the follow up posts. I publish music on an HP antique black and white laser printer. I must print the music on both sides. I have found NO printer that will print duplex on heavy paper, unless I wish to give up space in my extremely tiny apartment for an oversized monster printer, that I cannot afford. Anyone have a suggestion for a B&W laster printer that can handle duplexing? For my needs, 8.5 by 11 inch is just fine.

    1. James Davis

      For the poster who asked about a 8.5×11 laser, I would recommend the Brother 2340DW. I’ve gone through three of them over the last 15 or so years and:

      1. They are cheap
      2. They produce crisp images of music
      3. The duplexing works great with 24lb paper

      Probably a newer model has a different number, but you can usually find one for under $100. Toner cartridges are not astronomical and third-party drums work as well as the OEM.

  11. François Grillot

    i work for the NYPO, SDSO, etc… NY City Ballet, and countless composers. Always printed 9.5 X 13.

    paper size is: 19 X 13, so 19 divided by 2 gives you 9.5.

    But may be it’s just in NY. Were different over here.

  12. Jay Anthony Gach

    I just wanted to add to this “paper size” thread my alternative experiences by orchestra libraries/librarians both in the US and Europe. Many of the orchestral performances I’ve secured lately are asking simply for me to send PDF’s of my full score and orchestral parts (most of my orchestra music is not “published” so I prepare the parts on Sibelius and not without a huge expenditure of time & effort !). I usually format the parts on 9/12 but I notice upon arriving at the rehearsals that i’m able to attend that the librarians have printed out the individual parts on 8 1/2 x 11 or A4 paper. MOLA certainly doesn’t recommend 8 1/2 x 11. Is this uploading and downloading of PDF file score and parts from composers/publishers to orchestra librarians becoming a growing practice? From my end it certainly relieves me of the photocopying expense (re. multiple string section parts, etc.) and the anxiety of shipping easily soiled music paper all over the planet. Thank you for your experienced feedback. Cheers

    1. choralier

      This is what is expected of me, both for my downloadablle sheets as well as commission work: pdf files. No one has ever asked for a preprinted version. I format ensembles:

      Scores – on US LGL (8-1/2 x 14 portrait, which most printers can handle – my Brother duplexing US LTR printer can handle this through the auxiliary feed). I imagine the recipient blows these up to tabloid if needed.
      Parts – US LTR.
      Organ scores – US LGL landscape on ensemble pieces, to avoid page turns. A large percentage of my pieces that are likely to be conducted or monitored from an organ bench.

  13. jay anthony gach

    Re-reading my previous posting: Apologies for not the most diplomatic of questions as it suggests a usurping of part of the music prep process, thus affecting a business’ “bottom line”. But yes this transfer of composers parts in pdf format to orchestra librarians and having them print them out to their standard is taking place. Perhaps, I’m the only one on this thread to have had these experiences and moreover with “regional” orchestras rather than the full time major symphony orchestras.

    1. Mike Bell

      All,

      This is a really helpful thread, but I think the real challenge is getting ahold of any paper size other than 8.5/11 or 8.5/14 in 24 or 28 pound. I’ve searched and searched but can’t locate it, and certainly don’t want to be in a situation like the story of going to Staples and being told $2000 to cut paper by special order.

      Where are folks finding 9 by 12 or other sizes?

      Mike

      1. Julian Bennett Holmes

        I previously bought 12×18 paper on Amazon, but now that I no longer use Amazon, I too am looking for a new supplier.

      2. mirabilos

        The problem is rather how to print on it than to buy odd-sized paper… most printers only do ISO A4.

  14. Douglas Gibson

    A4 and B4 are used down in Australia. B4 is preferred, but it’s a custom size.

    I’ve got a killer (as in wanting to kill someone) story for a prep job for NY based orchestra.
    I went to Staples (184th and Broadway to save someone else my pain) during non-peak hours needing a ream (500 pages) of 11×17 paper cut to 10×13. I knew from looking on the web page that the cost is $2 per cut. Perfectly fine to me. They have big machines that complete the task very quickly and usually takes about 90 seconds to complete. I describe what I want and ask how much it would cost. (I knew it would be $8 plus whatever tax) The lady goes to get the quote and returns and said $2000. Yes, TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS. What !!!!!
    To cut paper? I told her she had made a mistake, but no, she won’t listen. I said I need to speak to the manager. Ok, now the manager comes over so I am thinking I can talk reasonably to her as I know the dumb mistake the lady made. After about 5 minutes of discussion, the manager finally said: “I can make you a deal and do this for you for $800.” This is the existential moment one realizes that when God REALLY hates you, he lets you live and shop at Staples.

    See it is two dollars per cut. I had 500 pages needing to be cut both vertical and horizontal. Thus the $2000 quote. What I could not get them to understand is the super big industrial cutting machine they have accepts more than one page at a time. Simply put in 250 pages, make two cuts and boom it’s done. Repeat for the next 250 and the task is complete with 4 cuts and thus $8.

    I just said no….. thanks for your help. (Which is like in the South when people say “Bless your heart” it
    means go jump off a bridge) Took the subway to another print shop near by and got it done for $8.

  15. Douglas Gibson

    Where do you buy the 19 x 13 paper?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Doug: Thanks for sharing that story :-) You can get 19 x 13 paper at most stores that specialize in paper (not general office supply stores, as you have found), as it is a standard North American size for digital printing.

  16. francois grillot

    if you live in New York, go to Copycats

  17. Steve Cohen

    I worked at Wedo’s on and off throughout the 80s and 90s. Early on, the office was on Broadway and 50th Street, and then they moved to upstairs from Carnegie Hall. (Dr. Don Shirley lived on the same floor) If I remember correctly, arranger Mark Suozzo was Steve Danenberg’s partner. Eric Knight was another of the first-call copyists. Like Stan Applebaum, Eric was also an excellent arranger. We did a lot of work for Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops, conveniently located in the same building a few floors down.

  18. Michele Galvagno

    Thank for this article, really enlightening.

    As a EU based copyist I usually work on A4 and then if a different size is needed scale it up.
    My experience with A4 is that if I use 7.0mm staff size or more the amount of music per line or per page gets ridiculously small (especially if using the Opus music font).

    A publisher I work for prints on 9 1/4 x 12 but we work digitally on A4 … on 6.2mm!
    This may sound absurdly small but the result is quite nice.
    For my personal works I have now increased it to 6.6mm but I cannot go bigger than this, I cannot have one 4/4 bar of semiquavers with a few accidentals per system!

    Do you happen to have an article on “note spacing options”?
    Thanks

    1. mirabilos

      I do 7.020 mm (sp = 1.755 mm) for my vocal scores, and that’s even a bit smaller than the software default, and I don’t really want to go any smaller. I did reduce page margins to almost nothing to offset this… 12 mm on the binding/inner side, 8 mm on the outer side, and with 8 mm top and 10 mm bottom margin I often manage to squeeze another system on the page. Horizontal spacing is occasionally an issue, but I’m bound more by lyrics than by accidentals. In SATB + excerpts I tend to switch the excerpt to “small stave” which saves a bit. Maybe this helps.

  19. Nancy Valentine

    Hi! I am in need of purchasing 9.5 x 12.5 fine blank manuscript paper and 3/4″ tape. Can anyone guide me?

  20. C

    Staple gun for binding (instead of long reach stapler. etc, to staple many sheets of 70 pound paper).
    Any thoughts.
    Yes it sounds ridiculous.

    Thank You.

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